Wednesday, January 21, 2015

finding better pens - are rollerballs the answer? (NO!!)

The quest for a decent ballpoint style pen continues. I decided to do a web search to see if other people had gone through the same kind of search and of course they have - found a blog post where the guy basically said the first rule is avoid Bic like the plague. Basically because they just make cheap ballpoint pens and ballpoint pens skip all the time. Is it just me, or were ballpoints better when I was in high school? Seems like just about everything was better, and that's not just nostalgia - I've seen endless complaints from artists that the quality of all the products is deteriorating. Windsor/Newton Series 7 sable brushes used to be the best, as was Strathmore paper - now they've both been largely outsourced to cheap Asian manufacturers, with maybe one or 2 factories still located inEngland or wherever they originally were located, and now if you order from them you don't know if you're going to get the high quality stuff made by lifelong artisans or cheap sweatshop junk. It's happening to everything that used to be high quality.

Anyway, what I got form that blog was to try rollerball pens. They're similar to ballpoints, but they don't skip. I'm talking about liquid ink rollerballs specifically here - they come in liquid or gel, and the gel version tends to leak big blobs of ink randomly. That's what my G2 pens are, and it's what they do unfortunately. I really love the big fat bold lines I can get with them, but the sudden unexpected blobs make them impossible to draw with. I believe any gel pen is a rollerball, as a good rule of thumb - the thicker gel ink wont go through a standard ballpoint mechanism.

So I ordered Uniball Powertank pens in the Bold size. They're made to work like a ballpoint but not skip - and to lay down a more wet line like a fountain pen. And the ink cartridges are pressurized - they'll work upside-down, underwater, and in space. Tested one and not a single skip when I scribbled all over a piece of paper. The line isn't quite as thick as I'd like though and I haven't been able to find any broader than a bold. Well, I guess I can live with it - it's nearly as wide as I'd like, and I think I tend to draw too thick anyway most of the time. That's one of the things I really need to learn, minimalism. Not so freaking thick and not so many lines all over the place!!

The reason I do like a bold pen is because you can easily get a very light thin line with any ballpoint type pen, just by applying less pressure*. So if you have a bold pen then you have a complete range of line weights in one instrument and you can switch between them on the fly as easy as thought. No need to swap out one pen for another.

* Applies only to ballpoints, not rollerball pens unfortunately. See below:

A little more research reveals that rollerball pens with liquid ink actually don't have the same life as ballpoints - the line tends to be more mechanical in width with less variation possible - they won't go as thick or as thin. No wonder I'm less than happy with the Uniballs! It's starting to look like I either use regular ballpoints and put up with the constant skipping, or just give up on this mad quest.

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